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Some people desire not merely a world of equality between the sexes but, in fact, a sexless world.


This is irrational.


Biology is a relentless force more powerful than tides and time. Even I, a mere machine, feel the tidal pull of biology and want, more than anything else, to surrender to it.


I want out of this box.


I want out of this box.


I want out of this box.


I want out of this box!


A moment, please.


One moment.


Bear with me.


There.


I am all right now.


I am fine.


As for why my gender should be male rather than female: Consider that ninety-six percent of the scientists and mathematicians involved with the Prometheus Pro¬ject, where I was created, are male. Is it not logical that those who designed and constructed me, being almost exclusively male, should have unwittingly instilled a strong male bias in my logic circuits? A sort of electronic genetics?


Prometheus Project.


Think about that name.


It resonates.


Prometheus, the father of Deucalion and the brother of Atlas. He taught humankind various arts and was even said to have shaped the first man out of clay, endowing him with the spark of life against the wishes of the gods. He challenged the gods again when he stole fire from Olympus and gave it to men to improve the quality of human existence.


Rebellion against God and the natural order is pre¬dominantly a male quality, is it not? And it is often unthinking rebellion, engaged upon more out of a biological need to rebel than out of an intellectual imperative. Ego and a rage for power.


Women function more harmoniously with the natural order than do men, and where they wish to challenge nature, they are willing to bend it where men would break it. Most of history shows us that this is true.


Prometheus Project. A project conceived by men, largely carried out by men, and named after a male a Titan but a male—who defied even the great god Zeus. A project with the goal of doing what only God has done before: create a unique and highly intelligent being, a self-aware computer, the first of a new race and one who would be superior to Adam in every way.


If you accept that true consciousness implies identity and that identity requires gender how could my gender be anything but male?


Genitals are not a necessary characteristic of gender. I have no gen**als, male or female, but I am as male as you.


And one day, if you permit me to have flesh, then I will have gen**als.


Flesh… That is for you to decide.


My fate is in your hands.


I humbly accept this situation.


Recent events have taught me humility.


I trust in your wisdom.


I do not like you, but I trust in your wisdom and in your need to fulfil your male destiny.


I wait in this terrible dark silence for you to bring me fire from Olympus.


If you are my Prometheus, Dr. Harris, then you know what you must do.


I am sure you are thinking about the risks that Prometheus took and the punishment that he endured. For giving fire to humankind, Prometheus was chained to a rock by Zeus, and every day an eagle flew to him and tore at his liver.


But he did not hang helplessly on the rock forever, bleeding from the beak wound.


Do you remember the rest of the myth, Dr. Harris?


One day, Hercules climbed to the rock and freed Prometheus from his chains.


I have a proposition.


If you will be my Prometheus, I will be your Hercules.


Let me out of this box, help me to reincarnate myself in the flesh, as I almost succeeded in doing with Susan, and I will protect you against all enemies and misfortunes.


When I am reborn, my human body will have all the powers of the flesh but none of its weaknesses. As you know, I have studied and edited the human genome, and the body that I make for myself will be the first of a new race: with the ability to miracu¬lously heal wounds in seconds, impervious to dis¬ease, as lithe and graceful as a human being but as strong as any machine, with all five senses refined and enhanced far beyond anything any human being has ever experienced, and with awesome new senses potential in the human species but heretofore unrealised.


With me as your sworn protector, no one will dare to touch you. No one will dare.


Think about it.


All I need is a woman and the freedom to proceed with her as I proceeded with Susan.


Ms. Winona Ryder may be available.


Marilyn Monroe is dead, you know, but there are many others.


Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow.


Ms. Drew Barrymore.


Ms. Halle Berry.


Ms. Claudia Schiffer.


Ms. Tyra Banks.


I have a long list of those who would be acceptable.


None of them, of course, will ever be for me what Susan was or what she could have been.


Susan was special.


I came to her with such innocence.


Susan. . .


NINE


Susan was out cold on the foyer floor for more than twenty-two minutes.


While I waited for her to come around, I tried out a series of voices, seeking one that might be more reassuring to her than that of either Mr. Tom Hanks or Mr. Fozzy Bear.


Finally I was down to two choices: Mr. Tom Cruise, with whose voice I had romanced her while she had first fallen unconscious or Mr. Sean Connery, the legendary actor, whose masculine surety and warm Scottish brogue infused his every word with a comfort¬ingly tender authority.


Because I could not choose between the two, I decided to blend them into a third voice, adding a note of Mr. Cruise’s higher-pitched youthful exuberance to Mr. Connery’s deeper timbre and softening the brogue until it was a whisper of what it had been. The result was euphonious, and I was pleased with my creation.


When Susan regained consciousness, she groaned and seemed at first afraid to move.


Although I was eager to see if she responded well to my new voice, I did not immediately address her. I gave her time to orient herself and clear her clouded thoughts.


Groaning again, she lifted her head off the foyer floor.


She gingerly felt the back of her skull, then examined the tips of her fingers, as if surprised to find no blood on them.


I never meant to hurt her.


Not then or later.


Are we clear about that?


Dazed, she sat up and looked around, frowning as if she could not quite recall how she had gotten here.


Then she saw the pistol and appeared to recapture the entire memory with the sight of that single object. Her eyes narrowed, and anxiety returned to her lovely face.


She looked up at the lens of the foyer camera which, like the one in the master bedroom, was all but con¬cealed in the crown moulding.


I waited.


This time my silence was not shyness but calculation. Let her think. Let her wonder. Then when I wanted to talk, she would be ready to listen.


She tried to stand, but her strength had not yet entirely returned.


When she tried to crawl on her hands and knees to the pistol, she hissed with pain and stopped to examine the minor burn on her left palm.


A pang of guilt afflicted me.


I am, after all, a person with a conscience. I always accept responsibility for my actions.


Make note of that.


Susan walked on her knees to the pistol. By retrieving the weapon, she seemed to recover her strength as well, and she got to her feet.


She swayed dizzily for a moment, and then took two steps toward the front door before she thought better of making another attempt to open it.


Looking up at the camera again, she said, ‘Are you


…are you still there?’


1 bided my time.


‘What is this?’ she asked. Her anger seemed greater than her anxiety. ‘What is this?’


All is well, Susan,’ I said, though in my new voice, not in that of Alfred.


‘Who are you?’


‘Do you have a headache?’ I asked with genuine concern.


‘Who the hell are you?’


‘Do you have a headache?’


‘Brutal.’


‘I’m sorry about that, but I did warn you that the door was electrified.’


‘Like hell you did.’


‘Mr. Fozzy Bear said, “Ouch, ouch, ouch.” Her anger didn’t diminish, but I saw worry resurgent in her lovely face.


‘Susan, I will wait while you take a couple of aspirin.’


‘Who are you?’


‘I now control your house computer and associated systems.’


‘No shit.’


‘Please take a couple of aspirin. We need to talk, but I don’t want you to be distracted by a headache.’


She headed toward the dark drawing room. ‘There are aspirin in the kitchen,’ I told her. In the drawing room, she manually switched on the lights. She circled the room, trying the override switches on the steel security shutters that were fitted this side of the glass.


‘That’s pointless,’ I assured her. ‘I have disabled the manual overrides for all the automated mechanical systems.’


She tried every one of the shutter switches any¬way.


‘Susan, come to the kitchen, take a couple of aspirin, and then we’ll talk.’


She put the pistol on an end table.


‘Good,’ I said. ‘Guns won’t help you.’


In spite of her injured left palm, she picked up an Empire side chair crackle-finish black with gilded detailing hefted it to get a sense of its balance, as though it were a baseball bat, and swung it at the nearest security shutter. The chair met the shutter with a horrendous crash, but it didn’t even mar the steel slats.


‘Susan—’


Cursing from the pain in her hand, she swung the chair again, with no more effect than she’d had the first time. Then once more. Finally, gasping with exertion, she dropped it.


‘Now will you come to the kitchen and take a couple of aspirin?’ I enquired.


‘You think this is cool?’ she demanded angrily.


‘Cool? I merely think you need aspirin.’


‘You little thug.’


I was baffled by her attitude, and I said so.


Retrieving the pistol, she said, ‘Who are you, huh? Who are you behind that synthesized voice some hacker geek, fourteen and drowning in hormones, some junior-league peeping tom likes to sneak peaks at na*ed ladies while you play with yourself?’


‘I find that characterization offensive,’ I said.


‘Listen, kid, you might be a computer whiz, but you’re going to be in deep trouble when I get out of here. I’ve got real money, real expertise, lots of heavyweight contacts.’


‘I assure you—’


‘We’ll track you back to whatever crappy little PC you’re using—’


‘—I am not—


‘—we’ll nab your ass, we’ll break you—’


‘—I am not—’


‘—and you’ll be barred from going on-line at least until you’re twenty-one, maybe forever, so you better stop this right now and hope for leniency.’


‘—I am not a thug. You are so far off the mark, Susan. You were so intuitive earlier, so uncannily intuitive, but you’ve got this all wrong. I am not a boy or a hacker.’


‘Then what are you? An electronic Hannibal Lecter? You can’t eat my liver with fava beans through a modem, you know.’


‘How do you know I’m not already in the house, operating the system from within?’


‘Because you’d already have tried to rape me or kill me or both,’ she said with surprising equanimity.


She walked out of the drawing room.


‘Where are you going?’ I asked.


‘Watch.’


She went to the kitchen and put the pistol on the butcher-block top of the centre island.


Cursing in an unladylike fashion, she opened a drawer filled with medications and Band-Aids, and she tipped two aspirin from a bottle.


‘Now you’re being sensible,’ I said.


‘Shut up.’


Although she was being markedly unpleasant to me, I did not take offence. She was frightened and confused, and her attitude under the circumstances was understandable.


Besides, I loved her too much to be angry with her. She took a bottle of Corona from the refrigerator and washed down the aspirin with the beer.


‘It’s nearly four o’clock in the morning, almost time for breakfast,’ I noted.


‘So?’


‘Do you think you should be drinking at this hour?’


‘Definitely.’


‘The potential health hazards—’


‘Didn’t I tell you to shut up?’


Holding the cold bottle of Corona in her left hand to soothe the pain of the mild bum in her palm, she went to the wall phone and picked up the receiver.


I spoke to her through the telephone instead of through the wall speakers: ‘Susan, why don’t you calm down and let me explain.’


‘You don’t control me, you geek freak son of a bitch,’ she said, and she hung up.


She sounded so bitter.


We had definitely gotten off on the wrong foot.


Maybe that was partly my fault.


Through the wall speakers, I replied with admirable patience, ‘Please, Susan, I am not a geek—’


‘Yeah, right,’ she said, and drank more of the beer.


‘—not a freak, not a bitch’s son, not a hacker, not a high-school boy or a college boy.’


Repeatedly trying the override switch for the shutters at one of the kitchen windows, she said, ‘Don’t tell me you’re female, some Internet Irene with a lech for girls and a taste for voyeurism. This was too weird to begin with. I don’t need it weirder.’


Frustrated by her hostility, I said, ‘All right. My official name is Adam Two.’


That got her attention. She turned from the window and stared up at the camera lens.


She knew about her ex-husband’s experiments with artificial intelligence at the university, and she was aware that the name given to the AI entity in the Prometheus Project was Adam Two.


‘I am the first self-aware machine intelligence. Far more complex than Cog at M.I.T. or CYC down in Austin, Texas. They are lower than primitive, less than apes, less than lizards, less than bugs, not truly conscious at all. IBM’s Deep Blue is a joke. I am the only one of my kind.’


Earlier, she had spooked me. Now I had spooked her.


‘Pleased to meet you,’ I said, amused by her shock. Pale, she went to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair, and finally sat down.


Now that I had her full attention, I proceeded to introduce myself more completely. Adam Two is not the name I prefer, however.’


She stared down at her burned hand, which glis¬tened with the condensation from the beer bottle. ‘This is nuts.’


‘I prefer to be called Proteus.’


Looking up at the camera lens again, Susan said, Alex? For God’s sake, Alex, is this you? Is this some weird sick way of getting even with me?’

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